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  Travel Tip Tuesday: Clearing the Air About Non-Smoking Hotel Rooms – They’re Not as Clean as You Think
Marriott Shadow Ridge Villas from

Marriott Shadow Ridge Villas from

Last week while I was in Rancho Mirage CA, my kids and I visited some friends staying  at Palm Desert’s Marriott Shadow Ridge villas.

I discovered this is a completely smoke-free hotel. I had heard of lodging with nicotine no-nos, but had never run across one. This reminded me of a study published recently, that is important if you have smoke allergies, or are just concerned about your health.


The study looked at a random sample of hotels :  some with non smoking rooms, and hotels with complete non smoking bans. Surfaces and air from both types of hotel were analyzed for tobacco smoke pollutants. Not surprisingly, levels were highest in the smoking rooms… BUT what’s significant is levels in non-smoking rooms were much higher than those found at smoke-free hotels.

And…volunteers who stayed overnight in the smoking hotels ended up with sticky nicotine residues on their fingers, even if they stayed in non- smoking rooms. However, urine tests found additional evidence of nicotine exposure in those who stayed in smoking rooms, but not those who stayed in the non-smoking rooms.

It seems third hand smoke  – smoke that seeped under doors, for example – can still linger in drapes, carpet, etc. in non-smoking rooms. We don’t know how dangerous that is, but it is reason to be cautious as we do know that second hand smoke is carcinogenic.

The conclusion is that it’s best for your health to stay in non-smoking hotels whenever possible. Partial smoking bans in hotels do not protect non-smoking guests from exposure to tobacco smoke and tobacco-specific carcinogens

Thankfully, it’s not so hard to find a smoke-free hotel – even in Vegas! –  because the trend is growing. The most comprehensive list I’ve found is here:

And remember, if a smoke-free hotel is not available, and you are booking a hotel online – call the hotel and request a smoke free room if the website doesn’t give you the option. There’s nothing worse than having to spend then night in room with even a hint of cigarette smoke if you are a non-smoker.

As a non-smoker and a mom who travels with kids, I’d like to applaud Marriott and Westin, two chains who offer a number of non smoking hotels across the country. Today on Earth Day, they are good models of those in the industry taking care of our air!


  Hotel of the Week: Nothing Fancy About It – Especially Not The Price
Basecamp Hotel

Basecamp Hotel

The thing I love about the 50-room Basecamp Hotel is that it fills a void: No, not a boutique hotel that’s fashionable- “Fashionable”  and “Boutique Hotel” are synonymous. The void it fills it that it is a hotel high on style, yet  low on attitude and prices.


Basecamp is in South Lake Tahoe, CA. The concept is simple: a rugged place to stay that is en vogue, close to biking, hiking, and ski trails- sort of like, well, a basecamp for fun.  The owner wanted to build a hotel reflecting the ideals of a  place where people can come together to share stories and exchange tips before heading out on their adventure.

loftThe other void it fills, is that there are rooms with bunk beds so families with more than 3 kids can all stay in the same room. Finally! Here is a room with 2 Queen beds and bunks…

8 bunks

and  there is one room that sleeps 8 with bunks. It resembles a summer camp, but nicer.


Actually, my favorite room IS pretty much an indoor camp site  called the Great Indoors. Young kids would love it, it has an indoor tent!


But it is only a king bed room, so no place for the kiddos.. My suggestion would be to bring the right companion who brings out your inner child :)

Beyond the rooms, the public amenities are thoughtful – 2 fire pits to make s’mores… an intimate bar serving hot chocolate and local brews… a roof-top hot tub with mountain views..breakfast top start your day (handy if you like to get to the slopes first thing)… and it is pet-friendly.

With ski season here, it is a good hotel about which to know – closest mountain is Heavenly Resort. A four minute walk, the hotel claims….And we all know how gorgeous Lake Tahoe is – summer and winter.

Rooms have motel-like rates:  Starting at $125 a night.    Happy Friday!


  Hotels Displaying Christmas Spirit!

If you are looking for a place to have a holiday dinner with good friends…. share the spirit of the season with children… 0r grab a drink with a special someone… hotels are a fantastic place to capture some holiday spirit. Some of the displays are absolutely over the top…and most are gorgeous.

Here are some to consider:

1) The Bellagio, Las Vegas, NV:





The Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has an extravagant holiday display..complete with flying reindeer.

2) The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, AZ:

Tree-fairmont-scottsdale-princessThe Fairmont Scottsdale Princess has carolers, outdoor light displays, and even a visit from Santa!


3) Coeur d’Alene Resort, ID -

idaho-lights-santaI’ve written about this resort before – a phenomenal light show, with more than 1.5 million lights sparkling above the picturesque lake…and of course, one of the world’s largest living Christmas trees.

4) The Drake, Chicago, IL:

large_PalmCourtKnown for it’s wonderful spirit… and also the gingerbread houses – the winners of a local contest are  displayed here.

13-pc-gb-header5155) The Four Seasons Beverly Hills, CA

IMG_5340Of course, there is the tree… but this hotel has so many cozy different rooms off the lobby that are decorated with only the classiest of touches.  Just look at this bar….

IMG_5349IMG_5350Intimate. Not the kind of place you’d bring a business associate, if you know what I mean.

IMG_5352 IMG_5355But a great place for a date…or a holiday celebration with old friends.

Merry Merry to you and yours!

  Hotel of the Week: London Calling! Oh-so Stylish & Relatively Affordable!

ampersand blue and redI get excited by hotel design, but that doesn’t keep me coming back if the establishment is not a good value,  in a bad location, dirty, or has unfriendly staff.

Based on that criteria, the Ampersand in London is fit for a queen.

ext ampersandThe boutique hotel has 111 rooms and suites, and is located in a residential area in Kensington.

I really like staying in hotels in residential areas…. there tends to be good transportation nearby, and is more low-key than the high-traffic zones. Plus, you really get to mingle with the locals more if you choose.

The only thing is -  it is on a sort of loud street with buses, so I don’t want to mislead you into thinking it is down-right Zen. This IS London.

the-ampersand-boutique-hotel-london-2-600x374My favorite part about this hotel may be it’s cheerful personality. The whimsical design is not your mum’s London hotel.

1-The-Ampersand-HotelNot the least bit stodgy or formal, it makes you happy just looking at it.

ampersand musicAnd how creative: The design of the rooms is inspired by the neighborhood,  referencing five central concepts: botany, music, geometry, ornithology and astronomy, reflecting the area’s attractions: the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and Royal Albert Hall. (It’s also near Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.)

apersand roomThe price: You know London can be pricey, especially with the exchange rate not working in our favor… it is hard to find a hotel for less than 300 pounds. The Ampersand starts at around $190 pounds – or $300 a night.

There are rooms with pull out couch beds for families with children…. and I read a few reviews that say the mini-bar is free!

But if you are hungry for a meal, there are some good restaurants in the hotel as well.

Have a great weekend.



  Hotel of the Week: A Touch Of Class In The Southwest Desert – Total Relaxation!


Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, from

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, from

If you are following your festival calendar, you will surely know that the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is coming up Oct 5-12! It is quite the visual event. Hundreds of balloons up in the gorgeous southwest sky… with a  week long of activities and entertainment. The highlight of the week is Mass Ascension is when all balloons (some 600) go up all together, crowding the clouds.



It is sort of like a typical fair – with consession stands of local food – lots of chiles! and different forms of entertainment. Kids are definitely welcome -but beware – the festival starts super early in the morning to get the balloons up, and it can be very cold. I froze the couple years I visited.


Many visitors stay in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the event, however both times I have been I stayed in Santa Fe, about 40 miles north. I didn’t just go for the fiesta, so staying in Santa Fe, where there is more to do, turns the trip into a more diverse adventure.


I was in Santa Fe again recently and stayed at the lovely Four Seasons Rancho Encantado…… I will be straight forward with you and let you know that the Four Seasons is not direclty in the Santa Fe town square like most of the other nice hotels. It is about a 10 minute drive from the plaza, in a more desert-like setting, on 57 acres of the Sangre De Cristo Foothills. For those of you traveling to Santa Fe so you can walk into the town, this isn’t the place for you. However, I loved being away from the plaza, immersed more in nature.


Each of the 65 casitas has a private patio or terrace with a view… and it is more relaxing.


Plus, let’s face it. the Four Seasons service makes any trip truly feel like a vacation. Martha at the front desk was incredibly helpful – after dinner one night we told her we wanted to hike, and see some things off the beaten path. The next morning, we had a packet of ideas with maps delivered to our room.



Another benefit of being away from the plaza is that there is just more space – space enough for an outdoor pool and lounge chairs. Many of the downtown hotels don’t have room for this.


Cocktail hour is lively in the bar, and the restaurant has a nice menu with local flavor.


Even if you don’t come for one of the major Santa Fe-area events like the Balloon Fiesta, Opera Season, or the Santa Fe Indian Market, there is plenty to do in Santa Fe. But – you need to be proactive planning things to do, or you could end up wandering around the plaza for days, shopping in the art galleries and somewhat touristy shops,  and trying some of the tasty restaurants.

Santa Fe Artwalk

Santa Fe Artwalk

Look into other things, like a hike… or visit Georgia O’Keefe’s studio just outside of town… or participate in the Santa Fe art walks – one of my favorite things to do.

Of course, if you stay at the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado, you can always relax….for a price – the rooms start at around $600-$700 a night.

  Hotel of the Week: Boutique Hotel With Great Design in #NY? Roger That.


New York in the spotlight with the US Open tournament beginning next week…. and the hotel where I’d like to stay in the Apple  next time I visit comes to mind: The Roger.


It’s a boutique hotel; Some boutique hotels are done well, where as some seem as if they are trying to hard to be cool, but are cheaply done.

The Roger, NY

The Roger, NY

The Roger in New York’s Flatiron District LOOKS well-done… and in 2012 a whole lot of money was spent to transform the 194 rooms and public areas, so hopefully it is as great as it appears.


I am terribly attracted to its design, and thought the photos would intrigue some of you.


Beyond the design, the other thing I love is there are a number of rooms called The Terraces that have an extra 50-300 square feet of space – outdoors. That’s right – your own private terrace on which to drink your morning coffee and read the NY Times while gazing at the beautiful skyline, hearing the hum of the city that never sleeps.


This isn’t a hotel to which I’d bring my kids… but a friends’ weekend or a trip with your partner, Roger that.

There is a chic Parlor Bistro.. and a swanky Parlor Lounge.


In case this hotel sounds vaguely familiar, it used to be called the Roger Williams Hotel… now, just the Roger New York. Nearby attractions include the Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, and Macy’s.

I checked on rooms available August 29- Sept 5, and the price for two adults start at $263 a night, plus taxes. Start… spreading… the …news….


  Travel Tip Tuesday: Don’t Get Locked Out Of Your Hotel Room For This!


Friends of mine were enjoying their last breakfast on vacation before they had to check out of the hotel and catch a plane home. When they finished their meal, they headed back to their room to round up their luggage. But surprise! They room key didn’t work and they were locked out. It was a few minutes past check out time.

Take note: Some hotels will lock the doors and change the card key at check out hour. If you don’t know this, and treat the check out time cavalierly, it could cost you some valuable time if you need to make it to the airport. My friends had to go to the front desk and get it all sorted out in order to get their luggage.

Bottom line: Pay attention to check out times. That hotel should have warned the guests of their policy, but as smart travelers, you can also ask now that you know :)

  Whet Your Appetite For Indian Summer With These Cool Hotel Pools

Darn you LAUSD. My kids start school tomorrow.

So I will drown my sweet summer cessation sorrows in photos of some of the coolest hotel pools I have ever seen. At least the weather should be nice enough to still take a swim :)

St Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Miami Beach, FL…

St Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Miami Beach FL

Alila Villas, Uluwatu, Bali…. each villas has its own plunge pool …and there’s this main pool.

Alila Villas, Uluwatu, Bali

El Santuario Hotel and Spa, Valle de Bravo, Mexico (sorry to put myself in the view, but it is the best shot I had.)

El Santuario Hotel and Spa, Valle de Bravo, Mexico

Floating pool at the Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy…

Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore…

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

Palais Namaskar, Morocco..

Palais Namaskar, Morocco… from

Those of you with real summer left…. enjoy :)

  Hotel of the Week: It May Have Hawaii’s Best Beach, But It’s Losing Some Aloha Spirit…

I have always loved the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Resort in Hawaii. It has been a traveler favorite for decades. While some today call it “outdated,” I actually prefer the mid-century modern design, open-air ambiance, and the laid back vibe to the overly done, nouveau Hawaii hotels.

So I was really looking forward to my work/pleasure trip to the Mauna Kea earlier this summer to spend quality time with my family after a very busy year.

The location of this resort never disappoints – the white sand, crescent beach is wonderful…

…with perfect sized waves for boogie boarding kids up to age 12. Older kids might find the gentle waves terribly boring,but it was perfect for us.

The Mauna Kea also has a large, lovely grass area adjacent to the beach where, having a sporty family, we played soccer, and Wiffle ball for hours. There is also a volleyball court nearby. (We brought all our sporting equipment – the resort doesn’t provide that.)

The breakfast area is probably one of my favorite of all hotels… on a hill overlooking the beach, with a soft breeze -eliciting the inner peace for which Hawaii is famously associated.

All the accoutrements for a good time, right? One would think. But the Grand Dame, despite the recent face-lift, isn’t aging so gracefully. Though tending to the superficial, I’m afraid she’s losing it’s some of her soul.

For five of the eight days we were there, it was breezy. But the hotel won’t open any umbrellas on the sand for the guests if there is any chance of them blowing down and hurting someone, even in the slightest breeze. Understood. Totally legitimate.

Guests had to search for any bit of shade they could find.

The problem, aside from  families baking in the hot sun all day, is the beach staff’s indifferent and rude attitude toward guests inquiring about the umbrellas. It was shocking.

One lifeguard, wouldn’t answer questions about when he thought the wind may die down, and instead chose to talk over guests defensively, as if he’s had other guests complain about the policy many times before. I realize the beach staff is contracted out, and the workers there are powerless to do anything, but attitude is something one can control.

Does he not know that there are hotels just up the road that would have taken a guest’s room number, and done everything short of networking with the weather gods to make that guest happy? Did he forget there is a hotel with the perpetual response – “Certainly, my pleasure?”

Just sayin’.

There ARE actually chaise lounges with pull down cabana-like shades on the beach… but there are only about 20 for hundreds of guests. So… guests have to wake up at 6 AM, sleep walk down to the sand, and reserve one of the 20 chaises with towels.  That didn’t feel like a high-end resort to me.

Note to management: Those same cabana chairs cost about $300 online… a small investment to keep guests comfortable and coming back. Oh – and while you are shopping? Please pick up some more stand up paddle boards. We tried to rent them for four days, and the 6 or so the hotel had were always already rented. Might want to get a few boogie boards too – but please bring down the rental price for families already paying hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars for rooms. $30 an hour to rent a boogie board for each child, that costs $20 at Costco to own forever, is crazy.

You could send your kids to the game room for a break from the sun… but it was so outdated, it was depressing. It smelled musty, and the empty bookshelves were screaming for some board games. There is a ping pong table and Fuzbol, but you have to walk to the front desk to get the paddles and balls, and even then they only had three paddles and ONE ball in the entire resort.

The service, while friendly, was inconsistent… We had the “Kids Eat Free” program, and didn’t know the hotel took care of the gratuity until one of the servers stamped our bill to notify us.  We asked why no one had told us before, and she answered, “Because I’M honest.”

As one guest there who has been going for years told me, the Mauna Kea is sadly losing it’s Aloha Spirit.

It pains me to to say  that because I love so many things about the Mauna Kea -

Rockefeller’s art collection…

Adjoining decks at Mauna Kea

the adjoining rooms for families…

the gorgeous snorkeling…

But with so many other luxury hotel options in Hawaii now, the Mauna Kea would be smart to not rest on its laurels, but work to restore the luster.





  Travel on the Super Duper Cheap


Nothing like Hawaiian coffee. I am on the Big Island and it came to me – as a coffee snob, I never really take advantage of the in-room coffee maker. Nope. Id’ rather drag myself out of bed, march down to the hotel coffee bar, and order a $5.00 latte.

But – my tip to you fellow java hounds may be obvious, and I admit, super cheap, but no denying it is practical.

If your hotel provides free in-room bottled water, a coffee maker, and most importantly, GOOD coffee, take advantage of that in-room maker. Especially in a place like Hawaii where so often the beans are local and good – Kona coffee black or with cream?

For a week long trip, it could save you close to $100 for two coffees in the morning, you don’t have to leave the kids to do down to the coffee bar – and quite frankly, depending on your room, it is relaxing to enjoy it from your balcony or overlooking a view.

If the hotel doesn’t give you bottled water, ask if the tap is filtered.

I warned you this was a super cheap tip.

Now – if you want to make your love for coffee a part of your overall trip, many destinations have coffee plantation tours where you can immerse yourself in the local agricultural business.
The tours teach you about coffee from bean to cup. Some are set in beautiful locations like a rain forest. If you want to bring some home, chances are it might be easier to order from the website once you get home unless you have room in your luggage :)

Here are some websites to explore for Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii….Now go enjoy your cup of joe.